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Big East Tournament field wide open with top teams Villanova, Marquette sliding

St. John's stumbled into a No. 7 seed, but the Red Storm can't be counted out in a league full of teams with winning overall records.

Shamorie Ponds is St. John's equalizer, capable of

Shamorie Ponds is St. John's equalizer, capable of leading the Red Storm to victory on any given night. Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

When the Big East Tournament tips off Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, it will feature the most wide-open field in recent memory.

It took until the regular season’s final day to set each of the 10 seeds. When the dust settled, Villanova sat on top as regular-season champion, and every team sported an overall record above .500. Read on for notable teams in what looks poised to be an unpredictable week of basketball through Saturday's championship game.

Favorites

Top-seeded Nova, the reigning NCAA champion, enters as the favorite despite five conference losses. The Wildcats dropped three consecutive road games to St. John’s, Georgetown and Xavier in February. All-conference first-team selections Phil Booth and Eric Paschall lead the team in scoring and rebounding, respectively. Collin Gillespie is always a threat from outside, as he showed Saturday against Seton Hall with 22 points while going 4-for-5 from behind the arc in the loss.

No. 2 Marquette should be considered option 1-A. The Golden Eagles ran through the early conference schedule almost unblemished, save for two losses to St. John’s. Then came the season’s end. Four losses carried them to the finish as they dropped from No. 10 in the nation to No. 23. Markus Howard averages 25 points, but when he has an off night, Marquette struggles. Brothers Sam and Joey Hauser fill in the gaps on offense.

Seton Hall enters as the third seed. Wins last week over Marquette and Villanova solidified the Pirates’ resume ahead of Selection Sunday and capped a remarkable season after losing a slew of talented seniors. Myles Powell, averaging 22.6 points, dropped 35 at Georgetown before adding 34 against Marquette.

“They play with a great work ethic, and my message this week is we have a lot of basketball left to play,” head coach Kevin Willard said on a Monday conference call. “Let's continue to worry about getting better and just focusing on that."

Sleepers

St. John’s may look strange as a contender in the No. 7 spot. However, the Red Storm were a win away from claiming the No. 3 line. Instead, the Johnnies lost their third consecutive game Saturday at Xavier. Bracketologists differ on whether the team played itself from a tournament lock onto the bubble.

“My mind doesn’t go that far back, thank God,” head coach Chris Mullin said of the losses during Monday’s call. “Our sole focus is having a brand-new start.”

One thing is certain: If Shamorie Ponds is on, St. John’s can beat anyone. The Brooklyn native is averaging 19.8 points this season.

Dark horses

No. 4 Xavier has been streaking. The Musketeers lost six in a row in the middle of the season and looked destined for the Big East basement before shocking everyone and winning six of their last seven.

Sixth-seeded Georgetown made an unlikely run at the NCAA bubble behind Jessie Govan. The Queens product is scoring 17.6 points per game and grabbing 7.6 rebounds. With freshmen sensations Mac McClung and James Akinjo, the Hoyas are a few Big East wins away from dancing.

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